Relying on charity is not a plan

So there’s this guy I know who never seems to have any money. He works off and on, picking up jobs here and there, and in general is just barely getting by pretty much all the time. Which isn’t all that unusual, and hey – if it works for him, who am I to judge, right?

Sometimes, mere minutes after complaining to me about how broke he is, he’ll then suggest we go get drinks together. If I inquire as to how that’s going to work if he has no money, he’ll say something like “Oh, don’t worry, I have a plan.” Then we’ll get to the bar and he’ll buy one drink, drink it, and when it’s finished, he’ll stand around waving his empty glass and complaining loudly about how broke he is until someone takes pity on him and offers to buy him a drink. If that fails, he’ll bat his long eyelashes at everyone in the vicinity and just straight up ask them one by one to buy him a drink until someone does. Using this strategy, he can usually squeeze like five or six cocktails out of the $10 he brought with him. I find it kind of annoying, but it’s hard to fault him for doing it, since it seems to work out pretty well.

But it’s one thing if your strategy is just to depend on the charity of others when we’re talking about martinis. When you’re talking about the safety of 420,000 people, it’s a totally different story. Which is why I was particularly disturbed to read in the Trib yesterday Ron Dellums saying “Bringing in the Guardian Angels is part of the city’s comprehensive plan to provide additional security for Oakland’s business corridors.” Really?

I mean…really? Look, I’m reluctant to knock the Guardian Angels. Personally, they kind of creep me out. But it’s hard to condemn people who are willing to give up their time and spend their own money traveling somewhere they don’t even live to help out. Which brings up something else I don’t quite understand. What’s so special about the Guardian Angels? Why do we need people to fly here from San Diego or wherever to walk around commercial districts? Can we seriously not find 40 people in all of Oakland willing to walk up and down Grand Avenue for a couple hours at night carrying pepper spray?

Anyway, I certainly hope there’s an awful lot more to Dellums’s “comprehensive plan” than the Guardian Angels, and honestly, I don’t even understand why they’re part of our “plan” at all. I realize that this isn’t anything new, and I’ve complained before about how the Mayor’s approach to governing Oakland appears to rely on begging for charity and how that is the exact opposite of sustainability, which seems to be like, one of the Mayor’s 10 favorite words, but I swear, it really just drives me completely bonkers! I mean, if the City wants to hire private security for commercial districts, I’m down with that. If the City wants to employ its own unarmed force to patrol commercial districts, like they do in Philadelphia and Atlanta, fine. If the City wants to try to coordinate volunteer walking patrols of neighborhood residents, well, I guess that’s okay too. But I am completely baffled as to why anyone would think it’s okay to even suggest that safety for Oakland businesses should hinge on the presence of temporary volunteers from across the country. I just don’t get it at all.

12 thoughts on “Relying on charity is not a plan

  1. Travis

    Oakland has a permanent chapter of the Guardian Angels already, but these extra volunteers are coming in to help for the time being and recruit more people to sign up. The Guardian Angels can only do so much to deter crime and stop crimes in progress. It’s really up to the citizens to demand more police officers and be willing to pay for them while demanding accountability and results from the local politicians.

  2. Surfways

    Why don’t Ronnie the Clown have a couple of the Guardian Angels serve in his personal security detail and relieve the city-paid personal guards?

    We already demanded and paid for more police officers. We should NOT be willing to pay more than what we’ve already paid. Public safety is and should be priority #1 and covered by the general or existing funds.

  3. VivekB

    I’m seeing quite the pattern lately, namely the feeling that one must rely on an external source to solve problems.
    1) Dellums wants charity, “off-city” (kinda like offshore) assistant volunteers, rather than find local solutions.
    2) Your buddy is looking for others to buy drinks for him, rather than working 40 hours per week every week to sustain his desired lifestyle.
    3) Homeowners who overbought houses during the boom using funky instruments like zero-down ARMs want bailouts by the Fed and/or banks.
    4) Oakland’ers are looking to tax Piedmont rather than balance our own budgets
    5) The state budget is looking to, well, it’s just a joke. Could that thing have more gimmicks in it?

    This is not unlike religion in the 1800′s, where one was trained that you couldn’t possibly control your own self or fate without praying to an external entity (that whole opiate of the people thing).

    The problem with having an external “locus of control” is that you surrender control over your own destiny, and fall into a martyr/victim complex where nothing you do is your own fault or of your own volition, it’s all been forced upon you.

    It is that, much deeper character and moral flaw, that must be confronted first. Across the board, with no exceptions. For me personally, i’d like to see us all start the ball rolling by seeing what we can do ourselves to help the situation. VS is an inspiration through her efforts to keep us all educated, what can the rest of us do? What can I do? (I have some thoughts about what I can do in this arena in a way that won’t interfere with my work/family/hobbies, but won’t go into it here as it’s meant to be a rhetorical question). I believe that by us living our lives this way, we can demonstrate to Mayor Dellums that we will not tolerate his half-baked manuevers, for we ourselves are better than that.

    Until then he’s got a great get-out-of-jail-free card: he’s just behaving like most of the rest of us. And only those of us who are without that sin may throw stones at him, which is currently too few & far between to matter. (Present company excluded, I doubt Dellums or his peeps have even been on the internet lately much less this blog)

  4. Jennifer

    At least this string of robberies will save me money because I won’t be eating out as much. But seriously, this is completely ridiculous. I thought San Francisco was bad in terms of political bickering and getting nothing done. But Oakland really has set a new standard. Any chance Dellums will tire of his job and step down? You know how he could show leadership? Spend each evening walking a different commercial corridor and eating in a restaurant — that’s a symbolic reassurance. Plus having an actual plan to help make the city more secure.

  5. californio

    Vivek, Your comments on personal and civic victimhood, etc., are absolutely to the point. The notion of victimhood and reliance on others is eating through this country like rust through a fender. But what does one do, as an individual, to better the situation in Oakland? Many of us are working in our own micro-neighborhoods to keep the streets clean, organize Night Outs, and the like, but that doesn’t affect city hall.

    Personally, I feel that blogs such as this one, excellent though they are at keeping us informed, can only go so far in organizing people to make change, and that is really what it takes–organization. I almost feel that the internet gives people a sense of power that they don’t really have: witness the numerous “impeach Dellums” posts with their numerous “thumbs up” on sfgate whenever there’s an Oakland crime article–all without effect. Information is not power. Power is power.

    What we need is a smoke-filled room. Maybe sans smoke, but a room nonetheless. There’s not too too much you can do without one.

  6. VivekB

    Spot on, californio. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t maintain an interal locus-of-control, and give you my partially baked answer. I know it’s not complete so consider it a work-in-progress, being evolved as I shop it around and get feedback about what works and what’s a dumb-ass statement.

    I see the following steps any one of us can take, steps that some of us are taking. I’ll do the high-level first, detail later. What you’ll see here is that what’s even a bigger issue than organization is communication and reaching folks with whom to organize. Otherwise it’ll be a really empty room, with all of 2-4 folks in it. I talk here about the rockridge forums, but that’s only because I haven’t had the experience yet to start an oakland-wide one. Perhaps in 9-12 months, once I understand how to do it.

    Once you get a few hundred to a few thousand folks “on your side” and willing to donate money & time to a cause, you have power.

    Summary in case you don’t want to read through paragraphs of details.
    1) Creation of new information channels to reach the general populace. (toughest part)
    2) Finding like-minded or interested individuals within the general populace.
    3) Build alignment bonds between those folks through frequent interaction across issues.
    4) Action on a given issue.
    5) Reporting of results, or progress using either the channel in #1 above or a new website.

    1) Creation of new information channels. Blogs like this one, forums like the ones at, provide a good way to create new channels to reach the public. I setup the rockridge ones so that there’s a variety of forums (community, crime, politics, green, marketplace), and most folks would find something of interest in any one. A variety of topics are there, and folks can easily scan through existing threads to see what they’re interested in, searching only the forums they care about. This is the hardest step, as we’re asking folks to interact in a brand new way, and get information in a brand new way.

    The three big reasons I think the forums will take hold is that it’s easy to “advertise” a website to build more awareness; there’s unique content available there, not available anywhere else(I.E., my monthly crime analysis is *only* viewable there, nowhere else.); and folks new to the area can easily scan through existing threads & convo’s.

    2) Finding like-minded individuals. Once you can reach thousands of people using that channel, it’s much easier to find your target audience, those that would help with the issue that requires organizing.

    3) Buld alignment through frequent interaction. A monthly or even weekly in-person meeting about a cause is inadequate, and the issue will “die on the vine”. The internet offers great opportunities here, and forums and/or blogs can provide the social lubricant and regular interaction to discuss a variety of topics. Those on the fence can safely lurk at first, decloaking when they feel comfortable enough that the group isn’t a bunch of loonies and it’s safe to do so.

    I don’t know about this blog, but the funny thing about the forums is we’re in the early part of that curve: I track unique IP addresses, we sustain anywhere from 50->250 unique IPs per day, but maybe 5 people are regular posters. There’s ~40 folks who’ve ever posted, so the theory is holding so far.

    4) Action on a given issue. At some point, the above discussion will crystallize on a given issue, and momentum builds. This is when the in-person meetings really add value.

    5) Report of progress. By reporting progress either using forums or a new site, you can get keep the ones in the fold, ,and get many more new people into the mix.

    Okay, that’s long enough, let me stop now and see if this entire thing smells like BS or not.

  7. californio


    The discussion of how internet groups and “real” political organizations supplement each other is a complex one. Ph.D students yet unborn will doubtless make their careers studying it.

    The problem I see in Oakland is that there is no political party, no group, other than those organized by individual candidates, eg. Ignacio, to stand for some principles regarding Oakland. If Howard Dean was so successful with his internet fundraising, it’s because there was something to give money to, an organization ALREADY in place. I also think back to the Good Government movement in California, now almost a century old, and the Progressives of the same era which took on and beat the Southern Pacific and were able to get Hiram Johnson elected governor. That was done before telephones were widespread.

    I think that for any movement to succeed and have legs, it must be based on principles rather than just the topics of the day. Edgerly will soon be history, the restaurant bandits will disappear, and Nadel will retire. What’s important is to create a movement, party, group, whatever, that transcends these issues. We need a constitutional convention in someone’s living room.

  8. VivekB

    Yep. And driving that convo that is how you/I/anyone else can help. First off, we need the sheer #s to have that constitutional convention, and I mean many hundreds to thousands of people. Otherwise it’ll be preaching to the choir, and nothing will ever change because those in power will simply wait until we get bored of our new toy.

    What i’m experimenting with is to use geography as an aligning principle to get those #s. Hence, I started a site for Rockridge Residents. The stated intent of the current forums is “to increase the sense of community and partnership between Rockridge Residents”. Sure, that’s narrowly focused, but I started the site just over a year ago, and didn’t actually know about this blog or know many non-RR residents. I figured I could use that as a location for the crime analysis, so I could factually see whether crime was up or down, in which geo-location, and in which category (Violent vs Property vs Vehicle vs Aggregate). The Politics section is also slowly starting off.

    I figured that as I got a handle on how to do crime reporting, and got a few dozen folks into the convo to help me refine it, it could grow into more of a “Facilitating Crime & Safety, & Political conversations for all of Oakland”. I’m far from having the skillset to do that today, but i’m just as smart as anyone else and willing to spend the time from 9pm->midnight (after work, after I play with the kids and they go to bed) to work on it.

    Perhaps when I get more skilled there, I can help drive that constitutional convention. I already registered OaklandResidents.Org, and am more than happy to start it up once I feel like i’m ready and more than a few dozen folks will pay attention.

    BTW, I repeatedly use the word “me” in this comment as I can tell that there’s at least a few folks who just want to live their lives, and I don’t want to be so pre-sumptuous as to think they’ll lift a finger to help. Hence, i’ll do what I can to prep and drive that convention, hopefully with a variety of folks in a variety of venues (ie, blogs/etc), we can build up the #s to have critical mass, and reach the tipping point.

    If it doesn’t work, I can always move me & the family to Piedmont :-) (joking, i’m joking!)

  9. Deckin

    My take on this is that rather than focus on abstract issues like organization building, lines of communication and all of that, what’s needed is a concrete goal. A goal that is easily digestible and that has broad support. Once you’ve got the goal, the organization is built around it. Think of Jarvis-Gann. That started as one issue around which it was easy galvanize support and became, for better or worse, a movement. Now I know V is not a big fan of this, but if you asked me, the clearest and easiest goal around which to frame all of these laudable organizational and institutional changes is a recall. I can’t think of any city worthy of being called that that would tolerate the level of incompetence and sheer neglect that we’ve received from Mayor McSleepy. Of course, I can’t think of any other city in the world outside of Berkeley stupid (in the aggregate) enough to have elected him in the first place, but that’a another story. All that’s needed is some player in local politics with the cojones to put their weight behind it and that would be that. But of course, and this is Californio’s point, we live under a political monoculture where all feed off the same teat. But if a petition’s started, I guarantee things will change, and fast.

  10. Robert

    Deklin – Schwarzenneger ousted Gray Davis through just such a recall, folks were fed up and wanted a change. Arnie came in promising to bust the boxes, and regardless of what you think of him, many of his proposals – budget reform, redistricting – would have done just that. But in the end, the established political machines, both Dem and Rep, have fought him every step of the way, and the voters have not supported him – in spite of electing him and relececting him.

    Where am I going? Removing the guy at the top isn’t really going to change anything as long as the established political machines, and there are many in Oakland, have power and fight the changes.

    My opinion, and it is only that, you need to break the machines, both the estabilished pols and the union establishments, and start over. One idea, a charter amendment to make Oakland a right to work city; no renewal of the union contracts with any union; and contract out much more to private industry.

  11. VivekB

    True, an issue would certainly galvanize support, but it would need to be run very carefully in order to avoid being a 1trick pony or being known as a highly negatively charged, anarchy-proposing organization just bent on destruction for the sake of destruction. That’s the type of people a recall effort attracts.

    Robert is right in that the machines need to be broken, but IMO getting communication structures in place to talk and align on what’s right, not just what’s wrong, is key. Otherwise it’s viewed as just a bunch of whiners talking about all the crap that’s wrong, let’s fire everyone, without actually offering a valid alternative. And I’d be willing to bet that there’s zero chance of any major idea passing muster, there’d be too much backlash from whomever in power is being affected the most by the change.

    I personally chose to start with communication because I felt that communications & change management is the one of the viable long-term approaches to behavior modification. It doesn’t have to be an either/or – I can work on that, y’all can create an alternative idea (ie, a recall or charter amendment or …) , and hopefully it’s a mutually supportive and beneficial solution.